Horse riding + natural endurance = trail runner
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I don’t know about you, but I love hearing different people’s running stories. Where their love for running started, where they’re planning on going.
That’s exactly what we’re going on this edition of the podcast and we head to Gauteng now to Pretoria, to Irene, to be precise. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Marzelle van der Merwe onto the podcast. Marzelle welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Marzelle van der Merwe: Thank you very much for having me.
BB: Marzelle, you were pretty active growing up at school, you did a lot of track and field, you’re also big into horse riding. Tell me a little bit about where your love for running, where did it start?
MVDM: Basically every year, starting from Grade 8, my house in the school needed someone to fill the gaps for inter-school. I basically put my name down for everything, for track and field. Then I did particularly well, with very little training, so that’s basically how it started.
BB: When you say everything, it is pretty much everything because you did from 200m right up to 1 500m.
MVDM: Oh yes and then a bit of long jump and high jump in between.
A balance between running and riding horses
BB: Talk to me about your love for horse riding as well and your love of horses. You ride quite a bit, I know you’ve had one or two serious injuries because of it too, does that take up much of your time as well?
MVDM: It takes up so much of my time, I’ve been doing it since I was three years old. It’s very time consuming. You have to look after an animal and they have to train just as much as runners do. So it’s very time consuming, but totally worth it.
BB: Do you find that the one sport helps the other, from a fitness and strength perspective. Do you find that riding horses helps your running and vice versa?
MVDM: For sure, obviously running helps riding quite a lot because it just helps with cardiovascular fitness. But as far as riding helping running, I think balance and strength is the big thing that a lot of people take for granted.
Things like my Achilles and my knees and things like that, they’ve been working hard since I was three years old, with very little impact. So naturally I think that will help me with injuries as far as running. Then your core is obviously also very strong because you need to balance so much. So that will help you a lot with the technical running, especially for trail running.
BB: Let’s talk about some of your running because as much as you were active at school, you didn’t really do very long stuff. But you have been doing quite a bit of long stuff recently and by long stuff I’m talking about marathons and ultras and you’ve realised you’re actually pretty good at it.
Luck of the draw with natural endurance
MVDM: Yes, I think I naturally have endurance because I had the same thing in school. Basically I wouldn’t train at all and every year would come around and from a bit of hockey training at the beginning of the year, I jumped into 1 500m. Just about lost the other girls who were training. So I think I naturally do have endurance and the marathon and the ultras, it definitely suits me quite a lot. Because I’m quite good at pacing myself as well and that’s super important.
BB: I hate to break the news to you, but it’s people like you who have natural endurance that people like me who don’t despise. You make us work really hard and you make us feel like we’re absolute losers. But we love watching people like you run. I can tell you that much. You’re still young, the decision to run marathons and ultras at the age you’re at now, how old are you? How did that decision come about to go long so soon?
MVDM: The fact that I’m 21 and what do you mean?
BB: What made you decide to go into marathons, you could be running 21 or 32. But marathons and ultras, a lot of people would say, you’re probably too young to be running the long distances like that.
MVDM: For sure. Well, basically I broke my collar bone at the beginning of last year and I couldn’t ride for eight months because I needed surgery, but I could run. I wasn’t really running competitively at all. I was just doing those odd 8km around our house here.
I just thought, okay, I need something to keep me busy and I signed up a marathon. I did the marathon and then I saw there was an ultra Iceland. We were going for a family holiday, so I thought, let me just have a crack at that as well. It just sort of happened. It wasn’t really a decision, I’m going to do these long distances, it just kind of flowed.
BB: Go big or go home!
MVDM: Exactly, jump in the deep end and hope everything is okay.
How an Iceland adventure sparked my running journey
BB: Tell me about this race in Iceland, it sounds incredible.
MVDM: It was so amazing, we started on a glacier, it’s the second biggest glacier in Europe. Obviously I had no experience, I had very little experience running on trails. All of a sudden I was running on a glacier and that was all very new to me.
But I think I handled the conditions quite well and I had no expectations. I just went and did my best. I put myself in the last seeding because I thought I was going to do so awfully. I was the first person out of that seeding group and I’d passed a whole bunch of people and finished second in my age group. I think that was the start of everything for me.
BB: You come home from that, obviously on a bit of a high. You decided to really start taking this seriously. You found a coach, what was the thinking behind wanting to get a coach and what are the goals and aspirations?
MVDM: I think, I’ve always been running a bit here and there and I’ve never taken it seriously at all. Because horse riding has always taken up such a big part of my life that I didn’t think that I had time for it. But after coming back from Iceland I thought maybe I should give this a bit of a go.
Firstly, I love it so much, it’s such an adventure and it’s such a journey. Secondly, I’ll be honest, I think I do have some talent in the endurance side of things, so I want to give it everything I can. I’m not knowledgeable enough to do that, so obviously to get a coach would be my next big step.
BB: What are the goals, what do you hope to achieve in running?
MVDM: That’s so difficult to say. Ultimately, it sounds so corny, but I just want to know that I haven’t left a stone unturned. I want to be the best that I can be and reach my potential. Whether that’s just where I am at the moment or whether that’s more like a world class thing, I don’t know. But I want to give it my best.
How I found my coach
BB: You’ve found a coach in Neville Beeton, he was very involved with the Breakthru Midrand Striders. I know for a fact that he was also very involved with Caroline Wostmann early on in her career, before she switched over to training with Lindsey Parry. The choice of going with Neville, how did that come about?
MVDM: On finding Neville, how I came across him?
BB: Obviously there’s lots of coaches out there, what made you choose Neville?
MVDM: Basically I emailed TRAIL Mag cause I was clueless. I didn’t know anyone in the industry, the only person I’d sort of heard of was Ryan Sandes, obviously. Before the race I knew no one. So I emailed TRAIL Mag and Deon came back to me, the editor of TRAIL Mag and he gave me all the contact details for Neville. I phoned him straight away.
BB: And the rest, as they say, is history. The choice to stick with trail as opposed to running on the road? You say you were a newbie in the race in Iceland, you weren’t quite sure what you were doing. But you seem to have fallen in love with trail.
MVDM: You can’t compare it to running on the road. I think there are, like the Cape Town Marathon and Two Oceans and all of that, there really are spectacular races. But I just compare it to getting to the top of the Drakensberg or the Maluti mountains, you can’t compare it. It’s so beautiful, it’s challenging and there’s so many aspects of trail running that it’s really something quite incredible.
What I’ve got coming up
BB: Next on the horizon for you, what are you working towards right now?
MVDM: I picked up a little bit of an injury, I fell on my knee a few weeks ago and I needed stitches. I had a potential hairline fracture, or the doctors suspect I had one. As I am, I cut the cast off after a few days and started running and I think that caused me to strain a few tendons in my foot. Right now I’m just taking it easy.
But my big goal this year is Ultra Trail Cape Town at the end of the year, the 65km. I hope I’m super strong there and I just want to give that my best. But yes, we’ll see how that all goes. For the race, I’m planning on doing a race on the 24th of September. But for the rest, I’ll probably just fill in a few races just to keep me ticking over and maybe just treat them as long runs.
BB: I’m running Ultra Trail Cape Town 65 as well at the end of the year, we’ll definitely see you there. I won’t be competing for podium places, so should be an incredible run and best of luck in the build-up and the next few months leading into that. It’s early in December and we’ll see you in the Mother City.
MVDM: Awesome, I’m very much looking forward to it.
BB: Marzelle van der Merwe, thank you so much for joining us here on Old Mutual Live, thank you for your time and best of luck.
MVDM: Awesome, thanks so much.